An Experience of a Lifetime!

Here is a photo of me with "Icey" from the Pony Rides at Caravan (I finally got a Pony, Yeahh!)

For me, the Stampede is a lifetime experience.

My relationship with the Stampede starts with my parents, both born and raised in Calgary. Mom was raised in a house in the 1400 block of 3 Street SE. Dad in a house on the property of Burns Meat Packing Plant in Ramsay.  Aunts and Uncles had homes in 14 Avenue, now gone and replaced by the Stampede Administration Building. I was born and raised in Ramsay.  So the Stampede was our neighbour and became part of our lives.

As a young girl memories of the Stampede start when I was old enough to go to the Stampede with my friends (and NO grown-ups) on Kids Day. We had been given our tickets on the last day of school and couldn't wait for the Big Day. Because maybe this year I would win the main prize, a PONY!  Of course parents hoped we didn't win, because keeping a pony in the back yard just wasn't an option. Alas, none of us won and we were a sad lot until the first cotton candy was eaten.

We didn't have a lot of money in those post war years after 1945, so families found inexpensive ways to take in the Stampede. I remember going up to Scotsman Hill (aptly named) where we could take in the Chuckwagon Races, and later the fireworks. At that time the old white wooden grandstand was in use, and the track configuration allowed us to see the whole race.

In later years, (the 1960s) I became the Akela (Cub Master) of the 25th St. Johns Pack in Inglewood.  A major fund raiser was having the exclusive permit to cater food stuffs to spectators on the brow of Scotsman Hill during Stampede.  The groups had a stand where you could get hot dogs, coffee, soft drinks; and all the Cubs and Scouts roamed the hill selling peanuts and popcorn. One of the parents, who lived on Salisbury, let us store all the equipment in his yard. We made a bucket of money, and could take all the kids to camps without any extra fees. But everyone worked hard, saw all the Chuckwagon races and fireworks, which never got boring.  And in those days, no one worried about children out late at night...

When in Home Economics in Jr. High, we were encouraged to submit entries into the Stampede competition. I had a go at entering muffins, tea biscuits, and a cross stitched apron. I was so proud to see my entries on display in the underside exhibit area of the Old White Grandstand. And more so when I saw a ribbon on my biscuits.  I still go see these exhibits in today's Stampede.

In high school years (1950s), I worked at Burns Meat during the summer. All the big food industry plants in Calgary had an exhibit at the Stampede. One summer it was my job to wrap imitation slabs of side bacon and the big hams in the special foil paper that Burns used. These were then used as part of the Burns display, which I proudly pointed out to anyone who would listen.

After University, I was now legal to go into the bars. In the 1960s, the big cabarets did not exist, and having a great time in a bar was all the celebration that took place. But one year, the Stampede put on a big street dance in the evening on 2 St SW between 8 and 9 Avenues. Everyone one was there! No booze was allowed on the street, but we would slip into the Royal or Wales bar, have a couple, sneak a beer out, dance away, then back into the bar... What a great time. What a horrible time going to work the next morning.

I had a major change in career in the 1970s and joined the Calgary Police Force (so called at the time).  I was one of the few who wanted to work all of the Stampede assignments. The Parade was my big thing; I loved meeting people, getting some Yahoos! going, posing for pictures. Cranky kids got to go on Patrol with me, which parents appreciated. Then on to the Grounds for patrol assignments. Too much fun, not a lot of hard work (at least not back then). One major memory was an early evening when a bad rain storm occurred, flooding the grounds, soaking everyone. People left, and when the sky cleared the temperature dropped drastically. Debbie, John and I were patrolling the Midway and you could have had a Chuckwagon race down the aisle it was so empty.  The carnies at the Merry Go Round hailed us to come on for a ride, which we promptly did. Debbie was very good at trick riding, John won all his races, and I was a kid again... Until whom do we see but the Inspector and Staff Sgt. watching us. The carnie slowed the ride; we hopped of the back side, and managed to avoid them both at quitting time. The next day the Inspector asked us for our applications to transfer to the Mounted Patrol Unit (horse unit) as we were obviously practising. And next year, a specific order was given prior to Stampede that no one was to go on the rides except in execution of duties... Our claim to fame.

After retiring from the Police Service, I volunteered for about 5 years as a Street Marshall for the Parade. It may have been a long day, hard on the knees and feet, but what fun... All the visitors to Calgary had to stand up and learn how to Yahoo, children always got the curb to sit on, no one barged in, and many families came back to My Block because it was so much fun. 

Later I received an invite to participate in the Stampede Caravan Committee, which I accepted and continue to be a part of to this day. Caravan often is the only form of Stampede that many Calgarians experience. So we make sure they have the best experience possible. I have worked on the Pony Rides (finally got my childhood wish) and enjoy the thrill so many children have when they ride for the first time in their lives. Many children never having seen a pony before, it makes your day when their faces change from trepidation to joy. Most especially is this rewarding when a child who has special needs goes on a pony for the first time. Those children get two loops around the corral.  Apart from the children, it is great fun to hang out with the ponies. You get to know their names and peculiarities. Last year one new pony was very adventurous and inquisitive, and when we weren't paying attention, almost had all the ponies gone on a Great Escape. We got the gate closed just as they were heading out. In spite, this pony led a raid on our storage box, where he noticed that we kept the carrots. So that is what the ponies were all in circle for!!!

Yes Stampede has been a part of my life, how can it not be when you are a native Calgarian. This is just a snapshot on my lifetime experience. Perhaps in the future while continuing to be a part of the Caravan Gang, more stories might just happen. In the meantime, let's have a big Yahoo!

Bonnie Rothwell
Caravan Committee

Here is a photo of me with "Icey" from the Pony Rides at Caravan (I finally got a Pony, Yeahh!)